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Reflections from the Interim Executive Director

“On a scale of 1 to 10, your team delivered at a 57!”  This was the first time I have heard such superlative praise but was not surprised that it was from a project sponsor who was complementing their da Vinci team. They exceeded expectations by a larger measure – delivering in months what the sponsor thought might take a year or more. Experiences like this make it a pleasure to serve as the interim executive director of the VCU da Vinci Center for the 2015-2016 academic year.

Our Certificate in Product Innovation program led by Allison Schumacher will have more than 125 students enrolled this year and will graduate more than 50. Ten teams will work on industry projects this year. The program works so well because of the energy, spirit, and experience Allison brings, our faculty and mentors who provide sage advice, and our operations team who helps it run smoothly day to day.

Our new Venture Creation Certificate program led by David Holland already has 25 students and expects to graduate 13 this first year. David uses his own experiences as well as his network of entrepreneurial contacts to provide our students with insights and opportunities. David’s leadership goes beyond the Center. He is generous with his time, advising several university and community organizations and shares insights with students. We look forward to growing this program substantially since President Rao has shared that more than 50% of VCU students have an interest in starting their own business.

Our newest program, VCU Innovate Living-Learning Community shares many attributes with a startup, where funding and serendipity play outsized roles. Innovate is fortunate to host Lighthouse Labs, a Richmond incubator, in Innovate this fall and we plan to host them again this spring. We started with 10 students this fall and hope to have 30 by next year. Somiah Lattimore, our director, has so many great ideas in the pipeline for our students, but like a startup, the path to success has many roadblocks and is often circuitous. We are lucky that Somiah leads this program since she has so much experience with startups – both winners and losers.  I especially appreciate Somiah’s patience while we get this program up and running.

I am in awe of the talent, enthusiasm, and energy of the VCU da Vinci Center faculty and staff.  In quick order the team created a common application for students enrolling in the various undergraduate programs. They take the time to interview every applicant and advise applicants on the best way to fit the da Vinci courses in their curriculum. They seek out interesting and inspiring speakers and identify challenging projects for our students. They freely give of their time to create wonderful learning opportunities in the classroom and in the field. And it shows.

Joseph Cipolla

Interim Executive Director, VCU da Vinci Center